Fundraising debate keeps Steele in the headlines
By Ben Pershing
When was the last time the chairman of either national party committee was in the headlines as much as Michael Steele has been in the last week? This intense focus can end in one of two ways -- the controvers(ies) quiet down and the media moves on, or Steele steps down. As of now, the former possibility appears more likely, but so far the story of Steele's chairmanship hasn't been easy to predict.
The Washington Post writes that "Steele moved to solidify his control of the party Tuesday, calling rank-and-file members to reassure them that the RNC is on stable footing. ... An RNC spokesman also reported that the committee raised $11.4 million in March. But the committee continued to face questions about the controversy. An RNC member from New Hampshire resigned Tuesday in protest of the party's handling of donor money. And GOP strategists groused that, March's fundraising notwithstanding, the RNC may not have enough money to fund voter-turnout operations and television advertisements in some competitive races." The Wall Street Journal agrees that the latest FEC report "comes as Republican officials and big donors are complaining that the RNC has insufficient money to help the party's candidates in advance of the November elections. ... The RNC had raised more money than the rival DNC through February of this cycle--$120 million, compared to the Democrats' $100 million. The RNC also has raised more money so far this year than it did at this point during the 2007-08 presidential election. But the RNC has also spent more money--$124 million--than in any other comparable period." The Daily Caller has another anonymously-sourced scoop: "The Republican National Committee at the end of last year struck a deal with the Michigan Republican Party that if the state party could raise what turned out to be a half a million dollars for the RNC from its donors, the committee would immediately give the money back, in a scheme apparently devised to increase the RNC's 2009 fundraising numbers. 'It was a known secret that a deal had been struck on the topic,' a former RNC official confirmed to The Daily Caller."
The Los Angeles Times reminds that "the odds are that Steele will survive -- and that Republicans will still have a very good year at the polls in November -- despite the soap-opera quality of their current party structure. For one thing, the political wind is at their back. ... For another, the historical trend always favors the party out of power in midterm elections, perhaps sensing the need for a new character or plot twist in the national drama. ... Maybe that's why unpopular, even discredited party chairmen have still managed to bring home impressive victories for their crews. Just ask Howard Dean." Politico observes that "by Tuesday night, no more full-time staff members were quitting or being pushed out. More leakage within the RNC apparatus could offer fresh oxygen to the party-in-disarray story, but for the moment that's not happening. ... Also not happening right now: any organized effort to push Steele out of his job." There may not be any organized effort, but Ben Smith noted Tuesday night that "Alex Castellanos, whose presence as an unpaid adviser was meant to smooth the impression of chaos last time a senior aide quit, suggested on CNN just now that Steele should resign."
The New York Times writes: "In the best of circumstances, the head of a party out of power is the voice of the loyal opposition; at worse, the chairman is an irrelevance barely known outside party headquarters, hustling for time on the afternoon cable news shows. But Mr. Steele, who did not respond to a request for comment, has become something else: a remarkably public presence that even some Republicans say is distracting his party at a moment of high opportunity." Kathleen Parker revisits Steele's Monday comment that he faces a slimmer margin for error because he's black: "Except that African American Republicans aren't buying it. For starters, Steele was elected by the predominantly white party. After months of unforced errors, he can't now turn around and charge his party with racism. Actually, racism would mean expecting less from an African American than from a white counterpart. If you can't play the race card with your own race, you might be in a heap of denial." Gloria Borger says, "Actually, it looks like he's had a pretty wide margin for error. And he's taken it. So now, just as the GOP should be solidifying its fundraising and its planning for a grass-roots, get-out-the-vote operation, it's having a bloodletting instead."
Believe it or not, there is non-Steele news happening in Washington this week, some of it quite important. "President Obama and his senior aides introduced a new nuclear weapons policy Tuesday with the promise that America would no longer build new nuclear weapons," the Los Angeles Times writes, adding: "Yet officials said later that the policy could allow them to bring back older, tested warhead components and designs to build what would be, for all practical purposes, a new weapon. The administration's hedge on the warhead issue was but one example of the caution built into a policy portrayed as a groundbreaking effort to reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons. Although Obama campaigned on a pledge to overhaul nuclear policy, administration officials listened closely to the more conservative advice of Pentagon officials in a yearlong study, said people close to the discussions. And they were sensitive to the need to win Republican votes in the Senate for ratification this year of a new arms control treaty with Russia." The Washington Post notes that last year, "Obama pledged to 'put an end to Cold War thinking' and move toward a world without nuclear weapons. This week, that soaring vision came down to Earth, with the issuance of a new policy reflecting the limits the president faces."
ABC News says "[t]he most controversial part of the policy announcement is the U.S. pledge to refrain from using nuclear weapons to attack any country that is in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if that country has attacked the United States with chemical or biological weapons. ... Republican Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl expressed concern that the new policy puts the United States at risk." Fred Kaplan thinks "Obama's strategy carves out a novel, and very intriguing, chunk of middle ground. It rejects 'no-first-use,' noting that the United States is 'not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons.' However, it does declare that the United States will not fire nuclear weapons first at any country that has signed, and is in compliance with, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The distinction may seem semantic, but in fact it's substantial." Joe Biden says in an op-ed Wednesday that "[t]his new strategy, a sharp departure from previous Nuclear Posture Reviews released in 2001 and 1994, leaves Cold War thinking behind." On a separate track, the Wall Street Journal reports that "A proposed communiqué calls for leaders from more than 40 countries to endorse a global crackdown on the illicit trade of nuclear material at a summit in Washington next week. The communiqué ... calls for tougher criminal prosecution of traffickers, better accounting for weapons-grade nuclear materials and more international collaboration in such cases."
Conservative talk-show hosts, take note: The Associated Press writes that "Obama's advisers plan to remove terms such as 'Islamic radicalism' from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say. The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, 'The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.'" On the other hand, the New York Times reports that "[t]he Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday. ... American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said." It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president."
The administration's economic policies are also under the microscope. USA Today ledes: "Fresh from raising taxes on upper-income Americans to help expand health insurance coverage, President Obama and Democratic lawmakers are targeting them again. When Congress takes up Obama's proposed $3.8 trillion budget this year, it will include extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts for middle-income families enacted in 2001 and 2003. Tax cuts for individuals with income above $200,000 and couples above $250,000 would be eliminated. ... Before that debate unfolds, Obama picked up some unlikely allies Tuesday. One group representing more than 700 wealthy Americans pledged to donate members' 2010 tax cuts while lobbying for the cuts to be eliminated next year. Another released a report showing that Americans with incomes above $250,000 have reaped $700 billion in tax cuts in the past decade." Dana Milbank marvels that "[t]he rich are different. In another era, the millionaires on Tuesday's conference call might have been called 'limousine liberals.' But that label no longer applies. Now any wealthy liberal worth his certified-organic sea salt is driving a Prius. For them, Obama's plan to 'spread the wealth' (by raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000) is too conservative."
Looking at the agendas of both parties, Tom Friedman writes: "Obama is at least trying to push an agenda for pursuing the American dream in these new circumstances. I don't agree with every policy -- I'd like to see a lot more emphasis on innovation and small business start-ups -- but he's clearly trying. I do not get that impression from the Republicans, and especially those being led around by the Tea Partiers. ... We can't get away anymore with a G.O.P. that wants to cut taxes but never specifies which services it plans to give up, or a Democratic party that wants to add services by taxing only the rich. ... One reason the G.O.P. has failed to spawn an agenda for the 21st century is that globalization has fragmented the party. Its Wall Street/multinational corporate wing understands we need immigration, free trade, clean-tech and government support for better infrastructure and the scientific research that is the wellspring of innovation. The Tea Party wing opposes virtually all those things. All that unites the two wings is their common desire for lower taxes -- period. ... Today, we have no real opposition party with its own pathway to the 21st century. We just have opposition."
April 7, 2010; 8:09 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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